Periodically, it is a good thing to review where you have been and what direction you are heading. The Legislative Committee did just that recently by re-visiting our political platform. And we committed to writing the process by which we hope to be able to influence policy makers in doing the right thing, which is seeing that our issues are heard and adequate support is sustained for Ohio’s school children and their families. This affords us the opportunity to restate our sponsorship of things we hold dear like: mental health provision in our schools; advocacy for disabled students and their families especially when they lack sufficient resources or knowledge in advocating for themselves; and endorsing programs and practices that reflect the best and most recent findings where academic achievement and mental health needs are both being met with the same urgency with fidelity. And in Ohio, that also means supporting the funding for the required yearlong internship for eventual licensure as a practicing School Psychologist.
There is a certain amount of power and certainty in enumerating those things that we hold dear. And in the current political climate of passionate expression, it seems fitting to review the purpose and mission of OSPA and its Legislative Committee.(OSPA MISSION: The mission of the Ohio School Psychologists Association is to serve the citizens of Ohio by working collaboratively with all learners, families, educators, and others to address the learning and mental health needs of children and youth.)
So here is our platform of issues that is aligned with OSPA’s mission and the philosophy, if you will, of our Legislative Committee:
OSPA LEGISLATIVE PLATFORM
OSPA engages in actions and activities that seek to positively influence outcomes directly affecting the lives of the students, families and schools whom our members serve. We promote the advancement of effective practices to improve student’s learning, behavior, and mental health.
We advocate for the following:
- Evidence based academic and intervention services to meet the needs of all students.
- Available school based mental health services to meet the needs of students and families.
- Continued state funding for the school psychology intern program.
- Targeted funding to school districts to support the implementation of a system of Positive Behavior Supports and Interventions (PBIS).
- Professional development resources to promote culturally competent practices to address the needs of diverse learners.
- Sufficient staffing of school psychologists to: a) adequately meet the educational and behavioral and mental health needs of students; and b) engage in the necessary collaborative work with other school staff.
- Adequate state funding to school districts for evidence based educational and behavioral health services for all students.
To promote a legislative platform means that one must also embrace advocacy. While this may be somewhat anxiety producing for some, there are plenty among us who are quite willing to step onto the soap box, so to speak. And we like to think there is an inner firebrand in all of us when our core values as School Psychologists are threatened.
To that end, we would like to promote that we once again, “Walk Like an Egyptian” (The Bangles, 1986) and embrace yet another pyramid of service delivery since we are so familiar with the concept. As it could be viewed, the Legislative Committee is advocating three levels of supports that are aligned like this:
Tier 1 – universal. Be aware of the issues and current climate with our legislative representatives, state school board members, and national trends that do affect all of us. By your association membership, you have access to our listserv for our most immediate way of information delivery. You also receive The Ohio School Psychologist publication throughout the year providing in-depth reporting of issues and practices to enhance our efforts. There is a regular Legislative Update that is made available through both the listserv and our website to give you the latest coverage of policy making at the state level. And if you join the Legislative Committee, which can be accomplished by a simple few mouse clicks on our website, you will also receive periodic notes about hot topics that impact our platform across the state.
Tier 2 – focused. At times, contact with our state level politicians or state board of education is indicated. We have asked our membership to join us in letter writing campaigns to make sure our voice is heard regarding policy and/or funding issues that directly affect the performance of our roles and the welfare of the children and families we serve. The Legislative committee will provide sample content for such contact and details on how to send written letters or electronic communications to key decision makers.
Tier 3 – intense. Infrequently, situations arise that may call for direct testimony to our state legislators or state school board or education department members when input is requested. This can occur when the organization is contacted to provide such input or when regional opportunities are presented when many groups can weigh in on offering their position on proposed changes in policy or regulations. When this is the case, our Committee and Executive Director (and Legislative Liaison) will assist with understanding the format required to ensure our position is heard and how we can best communicate our support, or lack thereof, when issues affecting our mission occur. So to that end, the following is offered:
- To advocate for the educational and mental health needs of children, adults and families;
- To contribute to the advancement of ethical, legal, and professional standards for the practice of school psychology;
- To extend professional growth and development opportunities to school psychologists;
- To promote research relative to the practice of school psychology; and
- To encourage the publication of information contributing to the advancement and practice of school psychology as a profession.
Steps to Effective Advocacy
Step 1: Know the issues and keep informed – A Tier 1 Universal Intervention
- Make sure you are subscribed to the OSPA listserv to receive legislative alerts, and updates. Also regularly check the OSPA Advocacy section of the OSPA website to keep up to date. Join the Legislative Committee through the website.
- Read the TOSP articles covering state education related activity.
- Sign up to receive communications from elected officials and from ODE
And know the decision makers
- Introduce yourself to your elected representatives and state board of education member by phone, email or letter. Attend any education related forums or meetings held in the legislator’s district, if given the opportunity introduce yourself.
- Discuss your interest in education issues, and indicate that you would like to periodically send information to your representative on issues of particular importance to school psychologists and the students they serve.
- Information on legislators, including contact information, biographic data and legislative districts, is available on the Ohio General Assembly website: www.legislature.state.oh.us
- State Board of Education members can be found at: www.education.ohio.gov
Step 2: Know when to contact decision makers – A Tier 2 Intervention
- Make sure you understand the legislative calendar and the key steps in the process to communicate with your legislators in a timely and meaningful fashion.
- By law, the General Assembly begins in January in each odd-numbered year and ends in December of each even-numbered year. Members are elected in even- numbered years. Senators are elected to four-year terms and are limited by law to two consecutive terms. House of Representative terms last two years with a limit of four consecutive terms. The Governor is prohibited by law from serving more than two consecutive four-year terms.
- In odd-numbered years between Jan. 1 and June 30, committee chairmanships are announced. General committee assignments are made in January. The Governor introduces the executive budget (suggested spending and tax levels for the next two fiscal years) in January. The final budget must be passed by the General Assembly by June 30. Much of the session’s legislative activity occurs during this period and at the beginning of the second calendar year of the session. Between July 1 and mid-December some voting session days and committee activity are conducted.
- In even-numbered years between January and mid-May, the House and Senate are in session. This time usually involves consideration of the budget correction bill (or mid-biennial budget review) and capital construction bills. In addition, candidates for House and Senate seats must file nominating petitions with boards of elections 75 days before the May primary. Between mid-May and November, the legislature typically is in recess for campaigning. The time between November’s general election and the end of December in even- numbered years is called the “lame duck” session. This is often when politically sensitive issues are dealt with.
And know how to contact decision makers
- Make sure you have current contact information, including phone numbers, addresses and email addresses for your state senators and representatives, State Board Members and members of Congress.
- Ask your elected officials how they prefer to be contacted. State legislators have email templates set up on the House and Senate websites. All that is necessary is composing the brief letter or message and clicking the send prompt. Congress has similar email message vehicles.
- Email contacts are the fastest way to communicate; however, letters providing well written, informative, points, supporting positions are also necessary as they help to educate the legislator and their staff. Letters, emails and phone calls from constituents are seriously considered and are always read by staff, and sometimes, also, by legislators.
- Always provide your contact information when contacting legislators, and sign up for legislator’s email newsletters, and encourage them to contact you on issues related to your areas of expertise.
- When elected officials vote or take action supporting your views, thank them. When they do not, politely express disappointment and urge reconsideration in the future.
Step 3: Know how to state your position in writing and speaking – A Tier 3 Intervention
- OSPA will draft sample letters for alerts we send out on the listserv, and we will also post them on the website. Additionally, talking points that support the positions stated in the letters may also be developed, and will be posted on both the listserv and website.
- Sample letters on any issue should be personalized in order to be most effective. Space will be provided in the letters to add personal experiences supporting the position(s).
- When creating an original letter, first, state your position (what you want them to do), second, support your position (why you want them to do it and why they should support it), third, offer to provide more information or to answer any of their questions, and finally, say thank you for their consideration of your views.
- And be willing to provide testimony to policy makers and stake holders who can further our mission and legislative platform.
So there you have it; a look back at what our common core values and issues are for School Psychologists in Ohio and a model for advocacy to ensure their continued support from our membership. While no one can accurately predict what future trends and change will bring, we can always access the direction and policies that our Legislative Committee believes will further our mission. And we promise to make furthering that mission through advocacy as psychologically painless as possible. Unless of course someone decides to champion some fanatical splinter interest group and then you are on your own where one truly is the loneliest number (Three Dog Night, 1969).
Ann Brennan, OSPA Executive Director and Chuck Archer, Legislative Committee Co-Chair
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